As I walk up to The Riviera, the theatrical Broadway sign immediately captured my attention. Umphrey’s McGee was having their notorious three night run in Chicago and I couldn’t wait to see what they were going to bring for their last night. After finally getting past security, the show was about to start in just a few minutes and the venue was already packed. I kind of love that the show didn’t have openers and started at the time they said it would. This allows for everyone to be on the same page and there solely for some Umph Love. Of course there were your typical concert go-er’s in dreadlocks and flowy skirts but what made it unique was that you could feel the positive vibes from everyone hi-fiving as they just passed yet another UM-friend they knew from a previous show.
For those who don’t know, Umphrey’s McGee or UM experiments with many genres including funk, jazz, blues, metal, electronic, bluegrass, and folk. The band members consist of Brendan Bayliss, Joel Cummins, Ryan Stasik Andy Farag, Jake Cinninger and Kris Myers.
Umphrey’s set began with the debut of, Bathing Digits, which was an instrumental jam. After a few songs they switched over to acoustic and got down to Bad Friday. The song debuted over New Years in Denver and was definitely one of my favorites during the night. I’m curious if it’ll be their go-to break out song for 2014. It was an acoustic version of the funky, dance sensation they played in Denver but was up-beat and fantastic to groove to. Afterwards they continued with their acoustic sound and brought out Daphne Willis for Bullhead City. The song was a great blend of country and bluegrass. What truly sets it apart was the complexity of the guitar. There was more emphasis on intricate combinations of notes versus simple chord strumming.
Umphrey’s second set began with their well-known, Der Bluten Kat. What really got me was last month, Galactic played at Park West and they brought out a saxophonist to lead what resembled a similar song during their show. The whole crowd at Park West started getting extremely hyped during the repeated guitar breaks just like at Umphrey’s. I love when musicians cover other songs. It not only allows the audience to see what the artist likes but creates crowd interaction. Speaking of which, the song after, Der Bluten Kat, was a cover of, Just What I Needed by The Cars. It orchestrated a venue wide sing-a-long and lots of cheesing smiles. One word – feel good music.
The last song of Umphrey’s second set was amazing. The composition of the instrumental and vocal layers in Puppet String is definitely worth commenting on. I felt as if they were puppeteers with their instruments and the guitar in combination with the vocals was soothing yet gave me quite the ear-gasm. They went back and forth between an emphasis on guitar broken up by bass and then over to vocals to a improvised hard rock jam session. For their encore, they brought out Jimmy Chamberlain from Smashing Pumpkins to replace Kris on the drums. For a lovely treat, they closed the night with Cherub Rock, a Smashing Pumpkin’s cover.
I really enjoyed how every few songs emitted a different vibe, kept the audience engaged and was collectively strung together with progressive rock underpinnings. The entire venue couldn’t stop jamming to the classic renditions of Umphrey’s McGee and after the encore I almost started to cheer: we want the Umph, got to have that Umph.
The great thing about seeing Umphrey’s McGee is that it’s kind of like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.